Former Pittsfield finance director lone interview for top Stockbridge post

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This story has been modified to specify the need for a new town administrator.

STOCKBRIDGE — And then there was one.

Following the 11th-hour withdrawal of the second finalist for town administrator, Susan Carmel, Pittsfield's former director of finance and administration, was the last woman standing at Wednesday's interview with the Select Board.

Heather Budrewicz notified the town late Tuesday that she had accepted the administrator position in Ashburnham, a community of 6,000 in Worcester County.

The Select Board is seeking a new town administrator to succeed Jorja-Ann Marsden, who notified the town last January of her retirement, which took effect July 15. The job opening was posted in April.

During her 45-minute public interview, Carmel — a lifelong Pittsfield resident who was also city treasurer from 2008 until this past January and city accountant from 2005 to 2008 — stressed the need to bridge differences and urged a cautious approach on shared services.

Asked by Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo how she would manage departments to create an effective working environment, Carmel emphasized "building a team and developing great partnerships."

Having supervised a staff of 25, she also described "motivating them to challenge themselves, to always think outside the box, making them feel a part of it. They have to understand the whole picture, and that everything they do counts."

"I take each person who comes to me, value what they say and listen to what they say," Carmel added.

Asked by Selectman Donald Chabon how she would handle difficulties with departments or individuals, she mentioned collective bargaining procedures.

"Sitting a person down, talking to them, finding out if there is an underlying issue, or do they need assistance in their jobs, you have to hear what the person has to say," she said, "and then follow procedure if it requires written discipline."

Chabon also asked Carmel how she would deal with "factions within organizations and internal groups with strong opposing opinions I'd be interested in how you make decisions in that environment."

He cited a group in Stockbridge "that feels very strongly about shared services, and there's a group that feels equally strongly, seemingly in a different direction."

"I am aware of that situation," Carmel said. "You have to hear both sides of the story and value everybody's opinion. You may have to respectfully agree to disagree, try to bring the groups to a compromise."

"It's tough; you're never going to come to a consensus, and we had that issue with many different things in Pittsfield," she said.

Selectman Stephen Shatz, pointing out ongoing discussions with Lenox and Lee since last fall on potential shared services such as human resources, planning and grant-writing, asked Carmel for her thoughts.

She suggested "starting small, sharing equipment, making purchases such as bulk supplies, there are a lot of avenues that could be explored."

Carmel also advocated resuming discussions with state Department of Revenue officials who have prepared a report on how the towns could work together.

Shatz noted that recent contracts signed with department heads include a "kick-out" clause in case of a shared-services merger.

Cautioning that the Select Board has not decided on a potential shared town administrator, he acknowledged that "it certainly will be discussed."

He asked Carmel how she would feel "if you were told that you might be looking for another job, or not as the case may be, you could be the shared town administrator."

Chabon interjected that "a shared-services town administrator is not a foregone conclusion by any means for the town of Stockbridge. Recent decisions of this board have been that it is not, so it could come up in the future but at the current time, that's not the projection."

Carmel responded that "nobody wants to go into a position knowing that a year from now, I could lose the job but if that happened, I'd look at it as a great experience to continue building my career and giving me the opportunity to apply for the position or move to another municipality. Everything in life is a learning experience."

Asked by Chabon whether she would apply if the town decided on a shared administrator, Carmel said: "Absolutely, I love a challenge."

After Chabon described "the need to get along, to work together towards a common goal," Carmel expressed strong agreement, recalling her many challenges as Pittsfield's finance director.

"I certainly wasn't always everybody's favorite person when I had to say, 'Sorry, no, I can't give you that in your budget,' " she said.

"I always prided myself that I treated everybody fairly," she added, by following state law and not playing favorites.

Asked by Shatz to outline her experience handling disciplinary issues, Carmel described "many years of experience dealing with that, having to speak to employees if their performance wasn't up to job expectations."

She also cited behavioral issues such as absenteeism and tardiness that had to be confronted.

Shatz, noting her "very extensive experience in finance and budgeting," asked Carmel how she would prepare a small-town budget.

She advocated "a bottom-up" approach, meeting with department heads and presenting them with an overview of what town government was seeking, such as a level-funded budget.

Carmel referred to her experience in Pittsfield, where she worked closely with mayors James Ruberto and Daniel Bianchi and was responsible for presenting financial projections.

"We were always challenged with finances in Pittsfield," Carmel said.

"This is a small town, you'll come to know everybody, you'll know your enemies quickly and they will know you quickly, as well," Shatz said. There's no hiding in a place like this."

"Pittsfield is even bigger," Carmel said. "There's no hiding there either."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

What's next . . .

What: Stockbridge Select Board discussion on search for new town administrator

When: 3:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Town Offices, 50 Main St.

Why: The Select Board The job opening was posted in April.

In their own words . . .

"The challenge and divisiveness over shared services, that's a biggie, I think it's unfortunate that we can't seem to come together on that. Certainly, that's going to fall on your lap in a big way. I don't have any great answers, but that's certainly going to be a challenge."

— Selectman Donald Chabon, addressing town administrator finalist Susan Carmel

"Our taxpayers are very concerned about our taxes going too high, too quick, so we've got to find income and keep the tax rate affordable, and keep the services where they want them, which is high with the tax rate we got. So, I foresee we've probably got to make some cuts to keep taxes down or raise taxes until we get this balance, so that's going to be a challenge for everybody here for the next few years. A big part of your position would be to come up with suggestions to keep the town running and keep the taxpayers happy."

— Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo

"The redesign of the budget process into the 21st century is a change that needs to be done, but so that nobody in this room thinks we have excessive tax rates, we have the eighth-lowest tax rate in Berkshire County. I think revenue enhancements are very important, grants to help underwrite a lot of the expense we have to deal with, particularly the reconstruction of our bridges. One bridge alone has an estimated cost of $3.5 million."

— Selectman Stephen Shatz

"I helped out every single department head I worked with in all the years. We may not have always seen eye to eye, but I did my best to always assist them. I was a big believer that we were all there for the same purpose and we're all working towards the same goal."

— Susan Carmel, finalist for town administrator of Stockbridge


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